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Album review: Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers' 'Chucho's Steps'

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Friday, October 29, 2010

"Chucho's Steps," the latest release from Cuban pianist, composer and bandleader Chucho Valdes, is a keyboard tour de force, but that's not exactly news when it comes to the 69-year-old Grammy winner. What sets this album apart is the colorful path he has mapped out for his sextet (plus chorus), a seasoned, fiery ensemble inspired by the legacies of Horace Silver and Art Blakey, among others.

A surging hard-bop thrust isn't always required. Instead, the album finds the maestro celebrating several of his favorite things with percussive authority and invention. He alludes to the Great American Songbook long enough to ingeniously salute Cole Porter and George Gershwin ("Begin to Be Good"); pays homage to the Marsalis family and its Crescent City brethren with the vibrantly evocative "New Orleans"; fashions expansive tributes to Joe Zawinul ("Zawinul's Mambo") and John Coltrane ("Chucho's Steps," which references the saxophonist's signature piece, "Giant Steps"); and taps into both the folkloric and spiritual essence of Latin music on "Danzon" and "Yansa."

He's in spirited company with saxophonist Carlos Miyares Hernandez and trumpeter ReynaldoMelian Alvarez. But Valdes is the commanding presence, and his delight in acknowledging some of his passions is as unmistakable as it is compelling.

- Mike Joyce

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